A Hero Remembered

patriotism, definition of patriotismRecently, a friend of mine lost his father. He was 90 years old, and his death was peaceful. In fact, given his life experiences, you could absolutely say his death was remarkable.

Lee Brown was born in 1925. He was the middle child of three and was raised by a single mother in Connecticut during the depression. You might say he was your “standard issue” American boy until he was drafted into the Army in 1942. He decided to volunteer for a new unit that was forming called Rangers and it had been predetermined that Rangers would lead the way.

At some point during the formation of this new group of elite soldiers, a mission began to be discussed specifically for them. This was a mission that some may have deemed foolish. Others may have called it suicidal, but clearly, it was seen as necessary. The mission concerned a little spot on the map called Point Du Hoc.

This small little seaside village was most probably unheard of by most of the troops before 1943, but historians are still debating the importance of this city during the Normandy invasion. Intelligence reports revealed that Point Du Hoc was where the Germans had built massive gun emplacements in concrete and steel bunkers that were zoned in to the beaches of Normandy. Should these guns remain active, any landing force would not only have to deal with mines, obstacles & machine gun emplacements, but brutal howitzer fire as well. Clearly, these guns needed to be taken out.

But, destroying these big guns was no easy task. These gun emplacements were built on top of 100-foot cliffs. The enemy would be able to see the landing crafts coming from a mile away and be able to direct fire down on them. The Rangers that landed on the beaches below had roughly 30 feet of beach and the daunting task of climbing the cliffs in force before attacking the gun emplacements. There were disagreements among the officers about the feasibility of this mission and at least one officer was replaced because he felt he couldn’t lead his troops in a mission he didn’t believe in. Despite that, the Rangers were put through very specific training to take the guns.

When the weather finally cleared enough to launch the invasion, the Rangers loaded into landing crafts at 4 am on June 6th, 1944. There were delays and navigation issues that put the landing crafts almost an hour behind and off course. Between the swells capsizing crafts and enemy fire, the Rangers suffered nearly a 50% casualty rate before they hit the beach. Despite this, they executed their mission by climbing the cliffs under heavy enemy fire. Once they found the guns and destroyed them, of the 225 men who got into landing crafts, there were only 90 Rangers fit enough to continue to fight.

Lee Brown was one of those men.

From D Day, he went on to fight in other battles including the Battle of the Bulge and his unit liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. He came home with a chest full of medals that he most likely tucked away in a footlocker and probably didn’t talk about much. He was part of the greatest generation. That’s just what they did.

He asked for no fan fare or special treatment. He went to work after the war like most veterans. He and his wife had two sons, and they raised them together. At the age of 62, he retired from his corporate job and became a greeter at Walmart- a job he absolutely loved. At the visitation prior to his funeral, it was easy to see that Lee was a man that many people loved. His son Dave was told things like “You won the lottery when it came to Fathers”, Your Father was a great man” and “I’ve never met a more heroic man in my life.”

It’s unclear whether or not he was the last survivor of the D Day landing at Point Du Hoc, but Lee Brown was just an ordinary American who was called to do extraordinary things. If he was like most men of his time, he went with optimism, hope and a quiet determination to do right. We wanted to recognize not only his amazing military service but the life he lived afterward. No matter how you define patriotism, we know that it’s men like this that help make this country great. We appreciate the quiet heroes among us like Lee Brown. We’d like to thank him and others just like him- on behalf of a grateful nation.

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